It's Kadayawan festival! Time to have a respite from politics and switch to uncontroversial subjects like...what else? Flowers and eagles.

Early morning Thursday, Donita Rose asked her partner Rica Peralejo in the morning segment of "Umagang Kay Ganda" what the national flower of the Philippines is. With some kind of doubt, she answered her own query: "It's Sampaguita, right?" Right. But Sampaguita is not only the national flower of the Philippines, it is also one of the three national flowers of Indonesia. (The two others are Phalaenopsis Amabilis which has long-lasting orchid blooms and Rafflesia which I think is the biggest flower in the world and also the most malodorous.) Sampaguita or kampupot is to Pinoys while Indonesians calls it Jasmin Sambac or Melati.

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Donita and Rica made an interesting and informed observation. They correctly said "maya" which used to be our national bird, had been changed by the majestic eagle in the world, the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi). We have these beautiful birds in Malagos, Davao City which are being successfully bred in captivity.

Davao too is the natural habitat for Waling-Waling (Vanda sanderiana) the world's grandest orchid. This famous species is undoubtedly the best of the strap-leafed vandas it accounts for the equally famous crossbreeds that you see wherever you see them. Never mind if we were not the pioneers in crossbreeding Waling-Waling with other vandas. There is nothing much we can do about that, but we can take pride over the fact the variety of crosses that you see in any botanical gardens worldwide have the strong strain of our Waling-Waling.

But I love Waling-Waling. It's stately, regal and decidedly the most stunning in the plant kingdom. For this reason alone, it should be declared our national flower instead of Sampaquita, which actually came from India. The European horticulturists, went gaga over Waling-Waling when a German plant explorer, Carl Roebelin, sent back a specimen to London after finding it in the forest land at the slopes of Mt. Apo most probably Davao City side. So spectacular was the orchid plant that it was later named after Henry Sander, an Englishman who then had a vast collection of orchids and other exotic plant species all over the world. There's an amusing sage about its discovery (1880) but that would take another story to write about.

Waling-Waling used to be very expensive. No more. Its propagation is no longer a mystery and contrary to some commercial plant breeders who claim that it takes millions of pesos to set up a laboratory to culture the orchid seeds, Waling-Waling in fact can be massively produced via inexpensive green-pod or dry seed culture. In fact all you need is just a couple of plantlets, the vanda can be induced to grow siblings.

Contrary to some beliefs, Waling-Waling is not a delicate plant to care for. The moment it reaches the stage when it shall have six to eight pairs of strap leaves, even the harshest of environment and untrained gardener will not deter the plant from growing and giving out those exquisite blooms.

In Davao City, plant breeders like Abdul "Nonoy" Aquino have the oldest collections. It's not because he was into orchid but in the 1980's when this wealthy sportsman was smitten by the orchid bug, he purchased the oldest orchid collection from a source (whose name I presently cannot remember) and then went on to buy every prized Waling-Waling during orchids shows.

The Puentespina family propagated Waling-Waling from its modern laboratory. Derling Orchids, imported thousands of beautiful crosses of vandaceous orchids. Sally Leuenberger of Sul Orchids and Ching Chua have fantastic collections of prize-winning Waling-Waling. It will be good to have one of this award winning cultivars which you can grow as mother plant for future propagation. Remember, just like other species, not all Waling-Waling plants have good features. Ask those who know what those excellent attributes are. Go see Sally or Ching for some pieces of advice. They have specimen plants which are meant for display only and may not sell. These plants are now on display at the SM mall garden grounds. If you have the money, wait until after they shall have declared the 1st prize in the Waling-Waling species. Buy it and you can never go wrong.

Another stately flower which comes in an array of seductive blooms are the Phalaenopsis. Buy a pot with a beautiful spray of flowers to gift the beloved with. The blooms will last for over a month enough to remember that gesture of love for a lifetime.

Happy Kadayawan!